Tag Archives: Corn Bunting

14th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. It was cloudy most of the day, but dry and mild and with light winds, before the sun came out later in the afternoon. We spent the day up on the coast, looking for spring migrants.

With the possibility that there could be some birds freshly arrived or on the move this morning, with the improvement in the weather after several cold and foggy days, we decided to spend the morning at Holkham and Burnham Overy Dunes.

As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a couple of Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes and several Shoveler around the rushy edges of the pools. When we got out of the car, a more careful scan revealed a few Wigeon still lingering out on the grass (most have already departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season) and a pair of Gadwall with them. There were also a couple of Oystercatchers and several Curlew. A pair of Lapwing were displaying further back.

Rather than heading out towards the beach, we turned west along the path before the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing deep in the trees along the first stretch, both early returning migrants. A Lesser Whitethroat started singing too, further back – it was probably just back from its African wintering grounds.

A Goldcrest started singing in the pines and we looked up to see it flitting around above us. We could hear a Treecreeper singing too, but it remained stubbornly elusive. Eventually we had a brief glimpse but it disappeared back into the pines before everyone could get onto it. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the trees too.

At Salts Hole there were a few Tufted Ducks and a single drake Teal out on the water. Another Chiffchaff was calling in the trees just beyond, and we followed it as it made its way quickly west on the edge of the trees, singing occasionally. Eventually it stopped to feed and we managed to get a better look at it. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds as we scanned the grazing marshes from the gate. It popped up into some brambles briefly but dropped down before everyone could see it. Two Spoonbills flew past.

A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up out in the middle and then a Sparrowhawk appeared above our heads, over the path. From the boardwalk up to Washington Hide, we stopped to watch another pair of Marsh Harriers which were flying in and out of the reeds. The male made several short flights down to the edge of the marsh and then came back with sticks or bits of reed, presumably nest building.

Marsh Harrier 1

Marsh Harrier – the male, carrying nest material

Continuing on our way west, we had nice views of a Sedge Warbler in the reeds by Meals House, which perched up more obligingly than the one we had seen earlier. Then it performed a song flight, fluttering up singing, before parachuting back down into the reeds out of view.

There were a few tits in the trees as we walked along. Then just before the crosstracks, we heard a Willow Warbler singing. It was in a bare deciduous tree on the edge of the pines and we had nice views of it as it alternately preened and sang, perched in the morning sunshine. We could see the lemon yellow wash to the supercilium. Then it started to feed actively, still stopping to sing from time to time.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing on the edge of the pines

Another longer distance, trans-Saharan migrant, the Willow Warbler was very possibly freshly arrived back. The song is a lovely sweet descending scale, very different from the Chiffchaff, a real sign of spring when the Willow Warblers return.

At this point we received a message to say that some Ring Ouzels had been seen out in the dunes. So, rather than stopping at the hide, we continued straight on towards the end of the pines. We stopped to scan from the gate. A couple of Blackbirds flew out of the bushes, unfortunately lacking the white gorget of their upland cousins. We made our way on into the dunes.

It was rather quiet at first out here. There had apparently been quite a good passage of commoner migrants earlier, but it seemed to have slowed now. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the bushes or down in the grass as we passed. A male Stonechat on top of a bush looked very smart.

The Ring Ouzels had apparently been with some other thrushes earlier, but we saw the Mistle Thrushes fly off west ahead of us, while a couple of Song Thrushes came up out of the dunes behind us. It was hard to tell which way the Ring Ouzels would most likely have gone, but we then received another message to say one had reappeared a short distance behind us, so we walked back to find it feeding out on the grass beyond the fence.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this male showed well on the grass beyond the fence

The Ring Ouzel was a smart male, with a bold white gorget. We had great views of it through the scope, as it fed out in the open. We could even see the silvery edges to the wing feathers. It would occasionally disappear back into the bushes, but kept coming out again onto the grass, before eventually moving further back. As we scanned the dunes further along, we spotted another Ring Ouzel perched in the top of a bush away to the west.

The Ring Ouzels are on their way from their wintering grounds in North Africa, back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and stop off here to feed. There had been six of them earlier, but we were more than happy with the views we had of these two. We decided to venture on a little further to see if we could find a Wheatear which had been seen along here earlier.

We continued on to the next open area in the dunes, but there was no sign of the Wheatear. It was getting very disturbed here now, with several people and families out walking their dogs. We didn’t have time to go all the way to the end of the dunes today, so we decided to head back east and have a look from Joe Jordan Hide on our way. A quick look out at the grazing marshes from the edge of the pines revealed a distant Great White Egret and a presumably feral Barnacle Goose with the Greylags. We could see three Spoonbills in the distance in the trees too.

As we climbed up to Joe Jordan Hide, we spotted a Great White Egret in one of the wet ditches right outside. As well as its large size, its long yellow bill gave it away.  While we were watching it, we noticed another Great White Egret further back. This one had a black bill – their bills change colour when they are in breeding condition. Hopefully they will breed here again this year.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – one of two we saw from Joe Jordan Hide

A few Little Egrets were coming in and out of the trees now too, which is good to see. The Little Egret population here was very badly hit by the cold weather earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see how many pairs breed here in 2018.

There was a lot of Spoonbill activity today. Several were down around the edges of the pool, bathing & preening. More were flying in and out from the trees, collecting nest material around the reedy margins of the water. We had a good view of them through the scope – the adults with their shaggy nuchal crests blowing in the breeze..

There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grass around the old fort and looking carefully through we found two Pink-footed Geese with them. We could see they were smaller and darker, with a more delicate bill, dark with a pink bank. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have gone already, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number normally over-summer here, typically sick or injured birds. One of the two today looked to have a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and winged over the winter.

Several Marsh Harriers were coming and going here too. A Red Kite circled up in the distance. While we were watching a dark Common Buzzard perched on a bush it suddenly took off and dropped sharply down onto the ground. It had caught something, and we watched as it flew off carrying it.

It was time to head back for lunch now. We made good use of the picnic tables at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. It was nice weather to sit out and eat today, with the bonus of a couple of Spoonbills which flew over while we were there, one right over our heads so we got a very good look at its spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew right over us while we were having lunch

After lunch, we headed further west along the coast road. After a while, we turned inland to see if we could find some farmland birds. A pair of Red-legged Partridges and lots of Brown Hares were in the first fields. Then we spotted a big flock of Linnets lined up on the wires, and more in the hedge by the road, with a Kestrel perched nearby. A little further on, we found several Bramblings with a few Chaffinches in the hedge too. There is a wild bird seed crop growing here and the birds have been here all winter. It will soon be time for the Bramblings to leave.

We stopped again to check out another field where there is a seedy strip. As we scanned round, we spotted several Yellowhammers in the hedges, including a good number of lovely bright yellow males. We could see a distant Corn Bunting in the hedge over the far side too, so we walked a bit further down for a closer look.

When we stopped to scan again, we heard another Corn Bunting singing in the hedge just ahead of us, like a jangling bunch of keys. It was hard to see against the branches, very well camouflaged, but in the end we got a great look at it through the scope, perched up with the Yellowhammers.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – perched up on the hedge with the Yellowhammers

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon was Titchwell, so we swung round via Choseley on our way there. A pair of Grey Partridge were feeding in a winter wheat field by the road, the male keeping watch while the female concentrated on finding food.

As we got out of the car at Titchwell, we could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling overhead. Four Common Snipe flew over the car park, but disappeared behind the trees before everyone could get on to them. On the walk to the Visitor Centre, another Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows and, when we got there, a male Blackcap was singing in the tree right above us.

Blackcap

Blackcap – singing in the trees by the Visitor Centre

A quick look at the feeders revealed several Bramblings. At first a female appeared in the trees behind, then a young male, with a black-speckled head but rather dull orange breast and shoulders still. Finally a third Brambling appeared, a much brighter orange bird, presumably an adult male.

Brambling

Brambling – one of at least three at the feeders

There have been a couple of Black Redstarts in the paddocks round by Patsy’s Reedbed for a few days, another early migrant just passing through here, so we went first to look for them. We couldn’t see any sign of them from the gate. The only bird of note on Patsy’s itself were a few Common Pochard,  and a couple of Marsh Harriers were displaying just beyond, the male calling and tumbling down from high in the sky.

We walked over to the end of the paddocks and there was still no sign of the Black Redstart. It had just been seen on one of the stable, but had dropped down out of view, and it didn’t reappear while we waited. There had been some wagtails here too earlier, but there were just a couple of Pied Wagtails now, the Yellow Wagtail having flown off towards the freshmarsh. We decided to head back to the main path.

Walking out across the reserve, the Thornham grazing marsh was quiet and there was nothing singing in the reedbed today. A single Little Grebe was hiding in the channel through the reeds and a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks were on the reedbed pool. Then we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling over the edge of the saltmarsh in front of us and looked over to see it flying across. It came past us, back over the main path, and headed away back towards Patsy’s and the paddocks. Another nice spring migrant for the day’s list.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flying overhead, calling

There were Mediterranean Gulls flying around calling non-stop, with lots of gulls flying back in from the fields inland. We could see the pure white wing-tips on the Mediterraean Gulls, which were translucent from below. The water levels on the Freshmarsh are much better now, much lower than they had been, but the islands seem to have been largely taken over by gulls. As well as loads of Black-headed and good numbers of Mediterranean, we found a few Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

With the improvement in the water levels, there are a few more waders back on here now. As well as the ubiquitous Avocets, there were a few Black-tailed Godwits, with many already moulting into their rusty breeding plumage. A lone Ruff was feeding around the edge of the nearest island, but there were mare further back, by the bank beyond Parrinder Hide, with a Redshank alongside providing a nice comparison.

There were still a few ducks on the freshmarsh, mainly Teal, although many have already departed back to their breeding grounds. The sun had come out now and the drake Teal looked particularly stunning in the late afternoon light.

Teal

Teal – a smart drake in the afternoon sun

We had a quick look on Volunteer Marsh, but the tide was already coming in fast and the channel was flooded. There were a few Redshanks and Curlews out on the mud in the middle. We didn’t have time to head out to the beach today, but the tide would be in anyway, so we started to walk back.

As we got back to the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit call and watched as it flew in skimming the tops of the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A few seconds later, it flew again, back across the reedbed and disappeared once more. That is often all you see of the Bearded Tits but a little further along, we noticed some movement down low in the reeds at the back of the pools by the path and looked across to see a male Bearded Tit.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair were feeding around the edge of the pools by the path

We watched the male Bearded Tit as it weaved its way in and out of the reeds, occasionally picking at the water surface or at the stems, presumably looking for insects. Then it flew across the water and disappeared into a thicker patch of reeds. As we waited to see if it might come out, a female Bearded Tit appeared in the reeds nearby.

Almost back to the trees, a ghostly pale shape flew in across the reeds and over the path. It was a Barn Owl. It headed round to the Thornham grazing marsh and started hunting over the rushy grass. We made our way back to where there is a gap in the trees and had geat views of it flying round. Eventually it dropped sharply down into the grass and when it finally flew up again we could see that it had caught a vole. It flew off with it in its talons, back the way it had come.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – caught a vole on Thornham grazing marsh

That would have been a very nice way to end, but back in the car park, we decided to have a quick look out towards the paddocks from the gates at the back. A quick scan of the stable revealed one of the Black Redstarts on the roof. It was the male, dark slate grey with a black face and an orange-red tail. It was perched, looking into the afternoon sun, presumably warming itself. A nice extra bonus to finish the day.

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4th Jan 2018 – New Year of Birds

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A different type of tour today, it was to be a whistlestop journey along the coast, from east to west, trying to pick up as many interesting birds as we could in the time available. The weather was not particularly amenable, with some light drizzle through the morning and then thickening cloud in the afternoon after a brief spell of blue sky around the middle of the day. Thankfully, it didn’t start to rain again until just after we had finished and we were on our way back.

Our first destination was Cromer. There has been a juvenile Iceland Gull on the golf course here for several days. We parked and walked back along the pavement, scanning the grass and it didn’t take long to find it, walking around on one of the fairways not far from the side of the road.

Iceland GullIceland Gull – showing very well on the fairway at Cromer Golf Course!

We had a good look at the Iceland Gull. We could see it was a rather delicate large gull with longish wings, pale biscuit colour overall, with paler wingtips. The eye was dark and the bill mostly so, with a hint of a paler base developing, confirming it as a juvenile.

Further along the edge of the road, we met a couple of people looking for some Redpolls which had been seen going into a weedy area by the edge of the golf course. When one of the greenkeepers drove past, they flew up and looked as if they might land in a large hawthorn bush. Unfortunately instead they disappeared round behind it. We waited a while to see if they might reappear, but after the greenkeepers had driven past a couple more times and nothing had come out we figured they must have gone somewhere else. With a busy schedule for the day, we headed off.

Our next stop was at Salthouse. We were hoping to see the flock of Snow Buntings here, but they have been very mobile, roaming up and down several miles of the shingle ridge, right up to the end of Blakeney Point, so we needed a bit of luck. Unfortunately, our luck was out – there was no sign of them in any of the places they have been favouring. It was not particularly pleasant standing up on the shingle in the drizzle, so we decided to carry on our way west rather than wait to see if they would reappear.

We did add a few other birds to the day’s list while we were at Salthouse. Scanning offshore, we picked up a couple of Guillemots out on the sea and a couple of Red-throated Divers flew past. A Skylark and a Meadow Pipit were feeding around one the small pools on the edge of the grazing marsh. A few Wigeon were scattered about the grass too and a drake Shoveler was on one of the pools below the shingle ridge. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead calling.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – several skeins flew over us at Salthouse

After negotiating our way round an unscheduled road closure, we managed to get onto Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham. A small covey of Grey Partridge were on the grass not far from the side of the drive. An Egyptian Goose flew past, flashing its bold white wing patches.

The Shorelarks out on the saltmarsh here had not been reported yesterday, but we thought it was worth a quick look anyway. As we walked through the pines, a birder coming back the other way told us there was no sign of them. We went out to look for ourselves anyway, but the best we could manage was a large flock of around 30 Skylarks. There was quite a lot of water on the saltmarsh today. It was still drizzling steadily, so we headed back to Lady Anne’s Drive.

As we walked back towards the car, a small group of Bullfinches flew up from the brambles beside the ditch and landed a little further along – we could see a couple of smart pink males and at least one female. A flock of about 100 Brent Geese had appeared on the grazing marsh by the car park while we were out on the saltmarsh. A quick look through them revealed that one was slightly darker than the others, with a slightly brighter white flank patch. It was the regular Black Brant hybrid which is often with the Dark-bellied Brent Geese here.

Black Brant hybridBlack Brant hybrid – second from left, with the Dark-bellied Brents

There were lots of Pink-footed Geese calling noisily, flying over and landing in the fields. We could see a few Marsh Harriers out over the grass and a Common Buzzard or two perched in the trees or flying round. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive towards the main road, a Stonechat perched on the fence and kept dropping down to the ground to look for food.

StonechatStonechat – feeding from the fence beside Lady Anne’s Drive

A little further on and we stopped again to look at the grazing marshes. There was quite a bit of water on there today, after all the recent rain, and at first there didn’t seem to be much in the way of birdlife. But then we spotted a Great White Egret flying in from the east and it dropped down by the edge of one of the ditches. Even before it landed, we could see just how big it was and when it touched down we could see its long yellow bill.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – flew in and landed out on the grazing marsh

This is often a good place to see geese, but there didn’t seem to be too many out here today. There were a few Greylags, but more of them seemed to be in the fields by the road today. A careful scan eventually brought its reward – first a little group of Pink-footed Geese and then, just beside them, a pair of White-fronted Geese, the one we were really looking for here. We could see their distinctive dark belly stripes and, when they raised their heads, the white surround to their bills.

Looking out to the west, we also spotted a single Red Kite circling out over the grazing marshes. Then it was time to carry on our way west. We got as far as Titchwell on the coast road and turned in land. As we headed up the road towards Choseley, a couple of Red-legged Partridges were in the fields, but the area around the drying barns was very busy and there were no birds here today.

It was starting to brighten up nicely now. Continuing on inland, we came across a huge flock of finches in the hedge beside the road. We stopped the car and got out for a closer look – there were lots of Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Linnets. A couple of Greenfinches perched unobtrusively in the bushes. Looking carefully threw the throng, we eventually found a couple of Bramblings with them too.

A little further on, we spotted several Yellowhammers dropping down into the middle a field. They had disappeared out of view, so we decided to have another look here on our way back. The last field we checked seemed to have many more birds – there were lots of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers in the hedge which kept dropping down into the cover strip below. We could hear Tree Sparrows calling and it wasn’t long before one appeared in the hedge too.

As we got back into the car, an approaching tractor driving down the road flushed a Sparrowhawk from the hedge and it flew straight towards us and landed in the trees right next to us. Needless to say, as we opened the window and raised the camera, it was off! We were on a roll now, and back to the first field where we had seen the Yellowhammers land earlier and we arrived just in time to see several birds fly up out of the crop. Two larger birds flew across and landed in the top of the hedge on the far side – two Corn Buntings, the bird we had hoped to see here. While we were watching the Corn Buntings in the scope, we spotted a couple of Stock Doves flying over too.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding in Thornham Harbour

It had clouded over again when we arrived in the car park at Thornham Harbour. We met one of the local wildlife photographers just packing up to leave and he told us he had just been watching the Twite on the edge of the saltmarsh immediately beyond the car park so we hurried straight over. We couldn’t see them at first as they were hiding down in the vegetation on the other side of the channel. There were a couple of Redshank and a single Black-tailed Godwit out on the mud.

We were just scanning for the Twite when they flew up out of the vegetation and straight towards us. They circled over and landed down by the puddles in the car park just behind us. We had a great look at them as they drank, there were about 20 of them in total. We could see their orange faces and yellow bills. They didn’t stay there too long though and the next thing we knew they were off again, out across the saltmarsh.

TwiteTwite – came down to the puddles in the car park to drink

After the Twite had flown off, a Rock Pipit flew past us and landed on a post just in front of us. They are fairly common winter visitors to the saltmarshes along the coast, Scandinavian Rock Pipits rather than our British ones which favour rocky coasts.

Rock PipitRock Pipit – landed on a post just in front of us

Having seen the Twite, our main target here, so quickly we made our way straight round to Titchwell next. After a quick bite to eat, we headed out to explore the reserve.

The main birds we wanted to see here today were out at the sea, so with the wind starting to pick up a bit, we made our way fairly quickly in that direction. A quick look in the ditches by the path failed to produce the hoped for Water Rail. Thornham grazing marsh and the reedbed pool looked rather quiet, although a Cetti’s Warbler shouted to us from deep in the reeds. A single Common Snipe was out on Lavendar Marsh, along with lots of Lapwing.

The water level on the freshmarsh is very high now and there are not many places for waders here. The tiny remnant of the island by the junction to Parrinder Hide had about twenty Ruff huddled round it, along with 5 Avocet which have decided to try to slug it out here rather than head south for the winter. There were a few more Lapwing too. Further out, the top of Avocet Island still protruded from the water and was fairly covered in Golden Plovers.

There were lots of duck out on the freshmarsh, enjoying all the water. As well as the usual Teal, Wigeon and Mallard, Gadwall was a welcome addition to the day’s list here. It was really nice to see quite a few Pintail too, including several very smart drakes. There was a raft of diving ducks around the taller island over towards the back – several Common Pochard and a couple of Tufted Ducks – but we couldn’t see the Red-crested Pochard which had been reported earlier. A big flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh out towards Brancaster and landed out on the water to bathe & preen.

There were more waders on the mud on Volunteer Marsh. From the main path, we could see several Ringed Plover and a Grey Plover, as well as a number of Redshanks and a Curlew or two. There were more waders down along the muddy channel which runs away beside the bank at the far end, including several Black-tailed Godwits, but no sign of the Spotted Redshank that had been reported here earlier. With the tide out now, it could easily have been hiding in the bottom of the channel somewhere.

Ringed PloverRinged Plover – one of several on the Volunteer Marsh

A single Dunlin with all the Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the Tidal Pools was the only bird of note, but we didn’t really stop to look here. Then it was on to the beach. We got ourselves into the shelter of the dunes and started to scan. There was an excellent variety of birds out here today.

Just about the first birds we found out on the sea were the Long-tailed Ducks. There were about 12 of them, diving just offshore, including some very smart long-tailed drakes. Also just offshore, we could see a few Common Scoter and Goldeneye. We picked up a drake Red-breasted Merganser on the sea too, before a group of about eight more flew in. A single female Eider rounded off the great selection of seaduck.

There had been a Great Northern Diver off here earlier, but that took a little longer to find, mainly because it was diving constantly. Eventually we got that in the scope too. A distant Great Crested Grebe was another addition to the list. While we were looking at all the birds on the sea, we kept one eye on what was flying past. A small gull, flashing alternately pale silvery grey/white upperparts and black underwings was an adult Little Gull, closely followed by two more. Several have been lingering offshore here in recent days.

There were lots of waders out on the beach too. Scanning through them carefully produced several Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Grey Plovers, Turnstone and Oystercatchers. Unusually, a single Sanderling took a bit of finding amongst all the Dunlin out on the sand today.

Having done so well out on the beach, we started to make our way back at a more leisurely pace. Scanning carefully around the Tidal Pools, we finally located two Spotted Redshanks. They were asleep, tucked down behind one of the islands, but one woke up long enough to flash its long, needle fine bill and more prominent pale supercilium than the regular Common Redshanks.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide on the way back. There was still no sign of the Red-crested Pochard, nor any Water Pipit around the remnants of the islands, but there was a single Goldeneye diving out on the water. The Golden Plover were very nervous, flying up continually, whirling round calling plaintively, before landing down again.

Golden PloverGolden Plover – periodically whirling round nervously over the freshmarsh

It was starting to get dark now, so we continued on our way back towards the car. We stopped briefly by the reedbed where the Marsh Harriers were gathering to roost. We counted 18 all in the air together at one point. Then it was time to head for home.

We had missed a few birds today – not a surprise given the weather and the fact that we didn’t have time to stop and wait for things to appear – but even so we had managed to see some very good ones. And, when we added up the total at the end of the day we had amassed a very respectable 97 species (96 seen, and the Cetti’s Warbler which we had just heard). A good way to start the year!

12th Sept 2017 – Autumnal Day 1

A Private Tour today, the first of two days. It was a lovely bright day, sunny at times, although with a nagging and blustery westerly wind. We headed up into north-west Norfolk for the day.

With a big high tide expected this morning, we headed up to Snettisham. It was not going to be big enough to force all the waders off the Wash today, but it should have been enough to concentrate them into the last corner of mud.

When we arrived, the tide was already coming in fast. We stopped to scan the mud and could immediately see a large mob of Oystercatchers gathered ahead of the rising water, a big black smear across the grey mud. The smear was moving too, flowing, as the birds walked en masse, steadily and sedately away from the incoming water.

Oystercatchers 1Oystercatchers – gathering on the mud ahead of the rising tide

Further over, we could see a scattering of paler grey dots. Through the scope we could see they were Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. Most of the Knot were further down the Wash today, in the next bay round, but we could see them from time to time when they took off and whirled round, thousands and thousands of them.

Some smaller waders were taking advantage of the remaining mud to feed. There were plenty of Dunlin and Ringed Plover in front of all the Oystercatchers. A couple of Turnstone and a lone Knot flew in and landed on the mud down in front of us, on the nearside of the channel. The Knot tried to go to sleep, but with the tide still rising it wasn’t long before they were all pushed off again. A small party of Golden Plover flew past.

We continued on down the path, trying to keep ahead of the tide. A line of Bar-tailed Godwits were standing in the water close to the Oystercatchers. Through the scope, we could see that some were still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage. Some of the Grey Plover further over were also still looking smart, with black faces and bellies still, not yet moulted into their drabber grey winter plumage.

Several Common Terns flew past, in and out of the pits behind us, calling. Two Sandwich Terns were flying around over the water and landed on the shore in with the Oystercatchers. Through the scope, we could see the yellow tip to the black bill of the adult Sandwich Tern.

A raft of ducks had gathered on the water at the mouth of the channel, swimming in with the tide. Most of them were Mallard, but in with them we could see a couple of Wigeon. A single Pintail flew in and landed with them too. Three Teal flew off.

With the time getting on towards high tide, it quickly became clear that the tide would not rise as high as predicted today. The blustery wind was holding back the water. Something flushed the Knot, possibly they were just jumpy in the wind, but they landed back down where they had come from and didn’t come round onto the bay in front of us today. More Oystercatchers were trying to roost further north, along the seawall, but were disturbed. A couple more huge flocks of them flew in and landed down on the mud with the ones already in front of us. The Curlew had already retreated to the edge of the saltmarsh and gone to sleep.

Oystercatchers 2Oystercatchers – flying into join the others on the mud

As the tide went slack, we could see a couple of Marsh Harriers out over the saltmarsh. They flushed a couple of Greenshanks which flew round in front of us. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. We turned and headed into Shore Hide to look at the pits.

There were loads of geese on the pits today, mostly Greylags, but in with them we could see a few Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese too. They had taken up occupation of many of the islands. In between them, we could see several Common Terns. They were mostly juveniles, particularly the three or four in front of the hide. An adult flew in to join them carrying a fish, but none of the youngsters seemed to show any particular interest in being fed.

With most of the waders staying out on the Wash today, there were not so many out on the islands in the pit. Just one of the islands had any waders on it and that one was jam-packed, mostly with Black-tailed Godwits. Around the edge were the Common Redshanks and in between the godwits we could just make out some Knot wedged in too.

There are normally some Spotted Redshanks here and they were roosting in their usual place, out in the middle of the water. They were hard to see at first among all the Greylags, but eventually the melee cleared enough for us to see that there were 14 Spotted Redshanks, mostly silvery grey and white winter adults. One bird still had significant remnants of breeding plumage, being heavily specked with black below. There were also several dusky juveniles.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – some of the 14 roosting on the pit today

Having had a good look round the pit, we decided to head back to the car. As we walked along the path, something spooked all the birds on the pit. It may have just been just the Greylag Geese taking off to head to the fields to feed at first, but once they took to the air calling noisily, everything else followed.

All the waders which had been packed in on the island took off. Several big flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot flew up and headed back towards the Wash, passing low over our heads as they did so. All we could hear was the beating of the Knots’ wings as they came over us. The Black-tailed Godwits were not beating their wings as quickly and did not produce the same effect.

WadersBlack-tailed Godwits & Knot – flying back to the Wash

Our next destination was Titchwell. When we got round there, we thought we might not be able to park at first, the car parks were full to bursting. In the end, we found a single space along the entrance road.  Unbelievably busy for a midweek day out of high season! As we got out of the car, a tit flock was feeding in the trees by the road, Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits. We could hear a Coal Tit and a Treecreeper calling and a Chiffchaff was singing half-heartedly. A Goldcrest flitted around in a hawthorn just in front of us.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – in the trees along the entrance road

Over an early lunch at the visitor centre, a Common Buzzard circled lazily overhead. After lunch, a quick look at the feeders produced a few Chaffinches and a single Greenfinch, as well as a few more tits. Then we headed out to explore the reserve.

As we passed the grazing marsh on the Thornham side, a Kestrel was hovering out over the grass. A Marsh Harrier circled distantly out across the saltmarsh. Passing the reedbed, we heard Bearded Tits calling close to the path but they were keeping well tucked down out of the wind today. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in cover too.

There were just a few Mallard on the reedbed pool today, and a single Teal appeared at the front. A Curlew was out on the saltmarsh opposite.

CurlewCurlew – out on the saltmarsh

From the shelter of Island Hide, we stopped to scan the freshmarsh. There are still lots of Ruff here, one of the most confusing of the waders. The adults are now in winter plumage, whitish below and grey brown above. The darker juveniles come in a range of buffs, browns and tawnies and look rather different to the grown-ups. With the males and females side by side, we could see the big size difference between the two, which just adds to the confusion.

RuffRuff – a buff/brown juvenile

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings in the deeper water over towards the reeds. Most of the Avocets have departed now, gone south for the winter, but we found a small number still lingering here. Two juvenile Little Stints had been reported earlier and it didn’t take us long to find them, feeding around the edge of one of the muddy islands out in the middle. They looked tiny next to the Black-headed Gulls. A juvenile Spotted Redshank dropped in briefly nearby.

While we were looking through the waders, we could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically. We kept looking over and scanning the edge of the reeds. One of the group went over and camped down in that end of the hide, and was eventually rewarded with a brief view of one down in the base of the reeds. Unfortunately, it had gone back in by the time the rest of us got over there. It really was a bit too windy here today, even the normally sheltered edge of the reeds was being caught by the wind.

As we walked round to Parrinder Hide along the main path, we had another scan of the freshmarsh and realised the Little Stints were much closer now to here. We stopped to look at them and through the scope we could see their prominent pale mantle lines or ‘braces’. They are on their way from the arctic tundra, where they were born, to the Mediterranean or Africa for the winter, stopping off here to feed on the way.

Little StintsLittle Stints – the two juveniles out on the freshmarsh today

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we saw several Lapwings fly up and circle round before dropping back down into the vegetation further over. We realised there were quite a few Golden Plover out there too, but they were extremely well camouflaged against the golds and oranges of the saltmarsh plants. When we got them in the scope, they were easier to pick out.

From Parrinder Hide, there were several more Golden Plovers out on the islands amongst the sleeping ducks, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon. We got one of the Golden Plovers in the scope so we could get a better look at it, admiring its gold spangled upperparts. A flock of Golden Plover then appeared overhead, calling plaintively. They dropped down to join the others on the freshmarsh, possibly some of the ones we had seen out on the saltmarsh earlier.

Golden PloverGolden Plover – several were out on the islands in the freshmarsh

A sharp ‘tchuit’ call alerted us to an incoming Spotted Redshank, which dropped down into the water just to the left of the hide. A juvenile, presumably the one we had seen earlier, it started to feed close to the hide, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side in the deeper water as it walked round in circles. We got a great look at it, its needle fine bill, neat white supercilium and rather dusky grey overall plumage, speckled with pale on the back and wings.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – this juvenile showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

A quick look through the gulls from this side, produced nothing but Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls at first. Then we picked up a smart adult Yellow-legged Gull on one of the islands further over. We could see its custard-yellow legs and slightly darker upperparts compared to the Black-headed Gulls next to it.

While the weather was good, we decided to head out to the beach next. There was not much on the Volunteer Marsh at first, until we got almost to the bank at the far end and looked down along the channel. There were quite a few waders out on the muddy banks, mostly more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. However there were three Grey Plover too and one was still in pretty much full breeding plumage, with black face and belly and white spangled upperparts. It looked stunning. The other two were already in much greyer winter plumage.

A Greenshank flew up from the freshmarsh behind us, calling, and flew off across the path and out towards Thornham Harbour. The tidal pools were rather quite, except for a few more Black-tailed Godwits and a single young Great Crested Grebe which was swimming in circles with its stripey head mostly down in the water, trying to spot potential prey.

Out at the beach, the tide was still going out. There were a few waders out on the mussel bed, mostly Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits, with a few Turnstones in with them. There were lots of Herring Gulls out here too. Scanning the sea, we picked up a female Common Scoter just offshore and a couple more Great Crested Grebes. Two Gannets flew past further out, as did a single Sandwich Tern. We couldn’t see anything else immediately offshore, and with some dark clouds behind us, we decided to head back.

As we walked back past the tidal pools, we heard a Whimbrel calling in the distance. We scanned and picked up two Whimbrel flying towards us, and they eventually came almost over our heads before continuing on west without stopping. A very obliging Black-tailed Godwit was feeding by the path as we passed.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding by the path on the tidal pools

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped for a quick scan again. There were more Black-headed Gulls here now and in amongst them we found a single 1st winter Mediterranean Gull, which proceeded to sit down and go to sleep. A single Dunlin had appeared and was feeding with the two Little Stints now, giving a great size comparison and again highlighting just how small the Little Stints are.

After a sit down and a cup of tea back at the visitor centre, we made our way back to the car. On the way home, we headed inland round via Choseley. Pulling up alongside the drying barns, all looked very quiet, so we carried on inland.

A flock of Goldfinches on the wires was the first thing of note we came across. A little further on, another bigger flock of birds on the wires were Linnets. We pulled up to take a quick look and noticed a few birds around the puddles in the edge of the field the other side of the road. They flew up into the hedge and we picked up first a Yellowhammer then a larger bird in the top of the bush above it. It was a single Corn Bunting, a real bonus. It was then joined by a Reed Bunting too.

The last bird of note was a Sparrowhawk which we disturbed from the road. It flew off low ahead of us, less than a foot above the tarmac, for some way until it found a gap in the hedge and disappeared. A nice end to the first day, lets hope for more tomorrow.

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

19th May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather forecast was terrible – rain all day and strong winds. Thankfully, once again it was nowhere near as bad as forecast and we had a great day, with over 100 species of bird on the list already!

It was cloudy and spitting with light rain as we made our way west along the coast road. A Cuckoo flew out of the hedge and across the road, right in front of the car, luckily just avoiding us, before disappearing away over the fields. We were heading for Titchwell today, but took a short diversion inland to Choseley. There have been some Dotterel in the fields here in the last few days, something we were keen to see.

It was very wet underfoot, but thankfully not raining, as we made our way to the edge of the field where the Dotterel have been. As we scanned across the stony ground, we could see a few Red-legged Partridges. An Oystercatcher was sitting tight, possibly trying to nest. Then, much further down the field, we found a single Dotterel. We had a look at it in the scope, but it was distant, so we decided to walk down the footpath and have a look from the other end.

When we got to the end of the hedge and started to scan the field, we realised that the Dotterel was very close in front of us. It had sat itself down in among the emerging sugar beet seedlings and was quite hard to see at first, other than through the scope, until it finally stood up. It appeared to be a male, not as contrasting as a female with a streaked cap – the sexes are reversed in Dotterel, so the female is the brighter.

IMG_4244Dotterel – the first we saw this morning, a male

We heard something calling behind us and turned to see another Dotterel flying in. It circled round and landed in the field, even closer to us than the one we had just been watching! Unfortunately, just at that moment, a large group of walkers were coming along the footpath and it took off again. As it did so, a third Dotterel flew in and joined it, and the two of them landed again further down the field.

These two Dotterel were females, so we decided to walk down along the footpath to try to get a better view of them. As we did so, a Corn Bunting flew up from the rough strip on the edge of the field and landed a bit further along, so we could get a look at it. There were a few Yellowhammers around the hedge as we walked along too. A Hobby came zipping in, low over the field behind us and disappeared back towards the barns.

The two female Dotterel were feeding actively, walking quickly along the field, in and out of the ruts, stopping every now and then to look round. We had a great view of them through the scope. We had been watching them for some time, when we noticed them stop and begin to call quietly. The next thing we noticed was another four Dotterel walking up the field towards them, all bright females again. The six of them gradually worked their way back over the field, so having enjoyed such fantastic views of them today, we decided to move on.

IMG_4259Dotterel – one of the six brighter females in the field today

It was cool and damp when we got down to Titchwell but we could immediately hear a Turtle Dove purring quietly. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the overflow car park, but when we got there it had gone silent. We walked round quietly and found it hiding deep in one of the trees, but managed to find an angle from which we got an unrestricted view of it head on. Turtle Doves are such scarce birds these days, it is always a delight to see one.

IMG_4280Turtle Dove – hiding in the bushes in the early rain

On the walk to the visitor centre, we could hear a Song Thrush singing, and eventually found it high in one of the trees next to the path. A Chiffchaff was singing from the sallows, doing a passable impression of its name. There were a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders, although the ones the other side of the visitor centre were being monopolised by several Jackdaws.

Heading out along the main path, we came across a large flock of Long-tailed Tits, a family party with several sooty-faced juveniles. We could hear several Reed Warblers singing from the reedbed and stopped to watch a pair of them clambering around the edge of one of the pools, collecting nest material. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes and we had a glimpse of it as it flew across the pool.

After the rain, the former Thornham grazing marsh pool had at least got a few puddles on it today, which were being occupied by several Shelduck. Several Swifts were hawking for insects over the reeds. There was not much of note on the reedbed pool, just a handful of Tufted Ducks, so we headed for the shelter of Island Hide, stopping briefly to look at a summer plumage Grey Plover on the saltmarsh.

There are a few more waders using the freshmarsh again, now that the water levels have started to drop. There was a nice flock of godwits roosting on the edge of one of the islands, a nice mixture of Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits, the latter having presumably come in from the beach with the rising tide. Running around on the mud nearby, were several Sanderling, moulting into darker summer plumage now, and six black-bellied Dunlin. A flock of Turnstone flew in and whirled round over the islands, but didn’t stop. Over the other side, on the mud near Parrinder Hide, we could see at least three Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover.

IMG_4306Ruff – a moulting male, with bright rusty head and neck

Needless to say, there is no shortage of Avocet here, although there were some nice ones feeding close in front of the hide. But it was the Ruff which stole the wader show. First, a rusty headed male Ruff appeared on the mud on the edge of the reeds. It was very striking, very brightly coloured but still moulting into breeding plumage and lacking the distinctive ‘ruff’.

When the godwit flock shuffled around and parted, we noticed a second Ruff in amongst them. Even though it was asleep, the wind was catching its feathers and we could see it had a full summer ‘ruff’. It was not as brightly coloured as the rusty-headed male, more subtly white barred with black, but when it woke up we could appreciate just how amazing its ‘ruff’ was. It started to feed and even raised its black crown feathers a couple of times, although it was a bit far away from where we were in Island Hide.

Many of the ducks have departed now, gone north for the breeding season – there were no Teal or Wigeon left here today. However, there are still plenty of Gadwall and Shelduck, plus a few Mallard and Shoveler. A pair of Gadwall feeding right in front of the hide gave us the opportunity to admire the intricacy of the drake’s patterning.

6O0A1327Gadwall – a beautifully patterned drake in front of Island Hide

There were several Common Terns loafing around on the islands. The Black-headed Gulls have taken over the fenced off Avocet Island, and in alongst them we could make out a few Mediterranean Gulls too, blacker-headed and with brighter red bills and pure white wing tips.

There were lots of House Martins and a fair few Swallows too around the reserve today, presumably including many migrants which have stopped off on their way to try to find some food. As we walked round to Parrinder Hide, a group of them were hawking low up and down the water’s edge just below the bank.

We got a better view of the stunning male Ruff from Parrinder Hide, before it flew off to feed on the mud over the other side. The Little Ringed Plover appeared briefly on one of the islands, as did a single Ringed Plover, but neither stayed long enough for everyone to get a good look through the scope.

IMG_4347Ruff – in full breeding plumage, with black-barred white ruff and black crown

There was still some misty dampness in the air, but we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both quiet today, as we passed and out at the sea, the tide was in. There was still a sizeable group of Oystercatchers gathered on the sand and a large flock of Sanderling whirled round over the beach and dropped down along the shore.

There are still quite a few seaduck here, but the sea was rough today, given the wind, and the scoter flocks were some way out. We did manage to find a distant group of Common Scoter which was still visible on the sea though. A couple of Fulmars flew past with barely a flew of their wings. It was not the weather to be standing around on the beach today, so we decided to head back.

6O0A1353Little Tern – hovering over the Tidal Pools on our way back

As we got over the dunes, a Little Tern was hovering along the edge of the Tidal Pools. Back at the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit calling and managed to catch a brief glimpse of a male which shot across the top of the reeds carrying food, although it was too quick for most of the group to get onto. Two gaudy drake Red-crested Pochard had appeared at the back of the reedbed pool.

There seemed to be even more Swifts around on the way back – small groups appeared to be moving through, while others were gathering to feed. We bumped into one of the locals who told us that he had seen a Spotted Flycatcher by the dragonfly pool, so we swung round via the Meadow Trail, but there was no sign of it when we arrived. A Little Grebe was diving out on the water, a pair of Reed Warblers were chasing around in the reeds nearby and a Red Kite circled overhead.

6O0A1401Red Kite – circled over Meadow Trail

After lunch back at the visitor centre and a very welcome warming hot drink, we walked round to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Great Crested Grebe was looking particularly resplendent in its breeding finery. Several drake Common Pochard were asleep around the edge and a single hybrid Pochard x Tufted Duck was diving out on the water. There were lots of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects low over the water here too now.

A quick look over the hedge in the horse paddocks paid dividends, with a single female Yellow Wagtail feeding on the short grass with three Pied Wagtails.

IMG_4367Yellow Wagtail – a female, feeding in the horse paddocks behind Patsy’s Reedbed

There were several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed and we watched a male come in over the paddocks from the fields beyond, carrying something in its talons. As it approached the reeds, a female Marsh Harrier circled up and started calling, at which point the male dropped the food it had brought and the female caught it in mid air – a ‘food pass’.

6O0A1408Marsh Harrier – several were flying round over the reeds, including this male

Back at the car park, the Turtle Dove was purring more actively now that the weather had brightened up. We got a great look at it, perched in the top of a dead tree. Then we set off to drive round to Thornham Harbour.

On our way down the road to the harbour, a ghostly white shape suddenly appeared from behind the hedge and drifted across the road in front of us, a Barn Owl. As if by coincidence, one of the group had asked not half an hour earlier whether there was any chance of seeing one this weekend, and we had discussed how the overnight rain last night meant their had to be a possibility one would be out hunting. As if by magic!

We turned round and drove into the pub car park. The Barn Owl was now hunting over the meadow just beyond and we had a great view of it as it worked its way round over the grass. After a few minutes, it dropped down to the ground out of view. When it came up again, we could see it had a large vole in its bill. It flew up over the hedge and disappeared off carrying it, presumably off to feed its hungry brood nearby.

6O0A1434Barn Owl – out hunting early this afternoon, after a wet night overnight

From up in the harbour car park, we could see there were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and sandbanks. Most of the Brent Geese which spent the winter here have already departed back to Russia, and presumably most of these lingering birds should be on their way as well soon. There were also quite a few striking Grey Plovers, with their black faces and bellies now.

We walked up onto the seawall, from where we could get an even better view over the harbour. In the distance, beyond the Brent Geese, we could see three Eider asleep on the sand. They were all young drakes, 1st summers, so have not headed north this year to breed. As we walked along the bank, a female Wheatear flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rump, before landing in a Suaeda bush. Away over the grazing marshes, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the distance.

IMG_4376Wheatear – a female, along the seawall at Thornham Harbour

As we made our way back east along the coast, we headed off inland to see if we could add to our tally of farmland birds. Another Red Kite circled over a field. We could see a pair of Grey Partridge in the distance. A Tawny Owl hooted unseen from a wood. And there were lots of Brown Hares in the fields.

6O0A1449Brown Hare – we saw lots in the fields today

Our final stop of the day was at Holkham. We didn’t have enough time to explore the reserve today, but we stopped at a convenient vantage point overlooking the grazing marshes. A Great White Egret appeared from a ditch, its size obvious even at distance. A second Great White Egret was hiding in a patch of reeds over the other side. A steady stream of Spoonbills was coming and going, but down in the trees we could see three white shapes perched up in the tops. Through the scope, we could see two well-grown juvenile Spoonbills, together with an adult.

There is no shortage of Greylag Geese here at this time of year, and a fair few Canada Geese too. Almost all of the Pink-footed Geese which were here over the winter have departed, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number remain through the summer, mainly injured or sick birds. We could see two Pink-footed Geese asleep in the grass today, one of which had a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and wounded.

Barn Owls are much like buses, as having already seen one at Thornham earlier, a second now appeared, hunting over the grazing marshes here.It spent some time flying round, covering quite a large area, before the next thing we knew, we saw it heading off purposefully with something in its talons. We watched it fly all the way off towards some distant outbuildings, preumably where it had its hungry brood waiting. Then it was time for us to head off home too.

27th Feb 2017 – Seaducks, Divers & Grebes

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. The request was particularly to look for seaducks, divers and grebes, but there would be time for other birds too. It was cloudy but bright in the morning, but heavy showers were forecast for the afternoon. As it was the weather gods were smiling on us – we sat out one brief shower in the hide at Titchwell and didn’t see another until we were back in the car at the end of the day.

With the target to see some birds on the sea, we started the day at Thornham Harbour with a walk out towards Holme Dunes. As we parked the car, a lone Brent Goose was feeding on the saltmarsh by the road close by. It looked up briefly, but seemed disinterested in our presence.

6o0a8198Brent Goose – feeding in the harbour at Thornham

The tide was just going out and the tidal channel was still full of water. From up on the seawall, we could see a few waders on the areas of open mud – Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, as well as several Redshank. The Twite have been rather elusive here this winter, tending to come and go, so it was no surprise that two small birds feeding down on the edge of the saltmarsh were a pair of Linnet.

6o0a8206Curlew – several were feeding on the mud in the harbour

Looking out across the harbour towards the sea, we could see a few ducks diving in the deeper part of the channel in the distance. Through the scope, we could see there were several Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of female Goldeneye. A Great Crested Grebe was just offshore beyond.

As we walked along the seawall, there were Skylarks singing over the grazing meadows behind us. A couple of Reed Buntings flew out from one of the bushes below the bank, as did a Wren. When two more small birds flitted across the saltmarsh below us, we expected those to be Linnets again, but a quick look revealed they were Twite. Through the scope, we could see their yellow bills and orange-washed breasts. They fed for a time in the vegetation on the edge of the mud, before eventually disappearing off back into the saltmarsh.

img_0953Twite – we found a pair on the saltmarsh on our walk out

Six geese flying in from the east over the harbour were Pink-footed Geese. We heard them calling and watched as they dropped down towards the grazing marshes to the west. Looking across, we could see a large flock of geese already down on the grass. Through the scope, we could see that the vast majority were Pink-footed Geese too. But then a head came up with a distinctive white surround to the base of the bill – two White-fronted Geese were hiding in with the Pinkfeet.

A shrill call high overhead alerted us to a displaying Marsh Harrier, a male, flying up and down with exaggerated, flappy wingbeats. Two more Marsh Harriers, females, flew in over the saltmarsh and, behind us, another two circled up over the grazing marshes. The bright conditions were obviously encouraging a burst of Marsh Harrier display activity this morning.

6o0a8240Marsh Harrier – this male was displaying overhead

A quick look out across Broadwater from the edge of the dunes added Tufted Duck and Common Pochard to the day’s list. A few Mallard and a pair of Shoveler were lurking in the reeds. A few Greylag Geese and a big flock of Curlew were in the fields beyond.

From the top of the dunes, we set ourselves up to scan the sea. Almost the first bird we set eyes on was a Great Northern Diver. It was not far offshore, but diving regularly and drifting east. It was clearly big and we got it in the scope and could see the contrast between the blackish upperparts and white throat and breast, with a black half collar.

Scanning the sea, we could see several Red-breasted Mergansers out on the water. Five large, heavy ducks flying in from the east were Eider – three all dark females and two 1st winter drakes, with contrasting white breasts. They landed on the sea further out where we could see them distantly. A little later, we looked back and found two smart drake Eider in the same area. There were a couple of Common Scoter out here too today, a blackish drake and a pale-cheeked female.

The Long-tailed Ducks have become more elusive in recent days. It is possible they have already started to move back north, although they may just have moved further offshore. Fortunately a few obliged us by flying in this morning. First, we picked up a lone Long-tailed Duck flying in from way out to sea, but it turned east and eventually landed some way away, off Thornham Point. We could just make it out through the scope. Then a pair flew in and landed out beyond the Red-breasted Mergansers. They were still distant, but we could see there was a smart male and browner female. The fourth Long-tailed Duck, a female, was even more obliging, and landed with the mergansers where we could get a much better view of it. To round out the total, a fifth flew past a little later.

While we were looking through the ducks, we picked up a Slavonian Grebe on the sea. It was clearly small, next to the Red-breasted Mergansers. It had a flat crown, white cheeks and a neatly defined black cap. Red-throated Diver is the most regular diver species here and we found one or two out on the sea. Black-throated Diver is the rarest so it was a bonus to find one just as we were about to call it a day. We were alerted to it by a flash of its white flank patch as it dived. It was rather distant, but when it surfaced again we could also see its very contrasting black and white colouration, and sleeker, slimmer structure compared to the Great Northern Diver we had seen earlier.

After such a fantastically productive morning here, we decided to head back to the car. Three species of diver and an excellent selection of seaduck was a great return for our efforts. A Little Grebe on Broadwater on the way back made it three species of grebe for the site today too!

As we walked back along the seawall, we could hear Twite calling. We assumed it would just be the pair we had seen earlier, but a flock of around 25 Twite flew up from the saltmarsh and across the path in front of us. A couple of males flashed bright pink rumps as they flew past. They dropped down by a pool on the grazing marsh for a quick drink, before flying back to the saltmarsh again. We had another good look at them through the scope.

6o0a8254Twite – a flock of about 25 had appeared on the walk back

There had been a Glaucous Gull reported by some pig fields inland from here yesterday, so we decided to have a quick drive round to see if we could find it. We did find a large flock of gulls loafing in a field by an irrigation reservoir, but all we could see there were Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls. There didn’t appear to be many gulls around the pig fields today.

The buntings were more obliging. There has been a big flock of Yellowhammers here through the winter and there must have been at least 60 here still today. Several were bathing in a puddle as we arrived, including some stunningly yellow males. They were rather flighty, constantly flying between the hedges and the field the other side. However, when they perched up in the hedge we could get a good look at them.

6o0a8275Yellowhammer – at least 60 in the flock today

As well as the Yellowhammers, there have been good numbers of Corn Bunting here and there were still at least 6 here today.We could hear one singing when we got out of the car, the song often compared to jangling keys, but we couldn’t see it through the hedge. Then one flew over as we walked along the road, we were alerted to it by its distinctive liquid ‘pit’ call. Finally we managed to get three in the scope, perched up together in the top of a small tree. They are getting so scarce now, it is always a delight to see Corn Buntings.

There were other things to see here too. There were several Reed Buntings in with the Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding in a recently sown field, much more delicate birds then the similarly grey Woodpigeon. A couple of Red Kites hung in the air over a nearby wood. When a Kestrel flew over the field, all the Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings scattered.

Our destination for the afternoon was Titchwell. After lunch by the visitor centre and a welcome hot drink, we made had a look at the feeders. There were a few Greenfinches with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but the highlight was a couple of female Bramblings which dropped in to join them. The Water Rail was in the ditch by the main path as usual, but was lurking under a tangle of vegetation bathing today.

6o0a8282Water Rail – lurking under a tangle of vegetation bathing

The dried out grazing meadow ‘pool’ looked devoid of life at first. We repositioned ourselves further along the path, so we could see round behind the reeds at the front. At that point, one of the group spotted a bird right down at the front – the Water Pipit we had been looking for. We had a great view of it through the scope, noting its white underparts neatly streaked with black, and well-marked white supercilium.

img_1011Water Pipit – showed very well on the grazing meadow ‘pool’

A single Great Crested Grebe was at the back of the reedbed pool, asleep amongst the ducks. While we were scanning around the edges of the pool, a small wader flicked up and dropped down on a patch of cut reed at the front. We had a very restricted view, with a line of reeds in front. Looking through with the scope we managed to see there was a Common Snipe feeding there, but the bird we had just seen fly in was smaller than that. Then, just behind it, we caught sight of a Jack Snipe.

The Jack Snipe flew across the water at the front and landed on another patch of cut reed the other side, out of view. By walking a little further along the path and looking back, we were able to find it again, though we still had to look through the reeds in the front. It was very well camouflaged, with its bright golden mantle stripes in amongst the reed stems, but the Jack Snipe was feeding with its distinctive bobbing action. Great to watch!

We could see dark clouds approaching from the west, so we made our way quickly round to Parrinder Hide to scan the Freshmarsh from there. As we walked round, a huge flock of Golden Plover flew up from the fenced off island and most of them seemed to drift off inland. We got into the hide just in time, as a squally shower blew in.

There is still a good variety of ducks on the Freshmarsh at the moment – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. The birds huddled up against the rain. There were also good numbers of gulls again, but we couldn’t find anything other than Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and Herring Gull on here today.

6o0a8324Teal – a smart drake, huddled up facing into the rain

There were lots of Redshank in particular on the Freshmarsh today. Perhaps they had been flushed off the Volunteer Marsh by something? Several Knot flew in too and landed in with the gulls. A noisy little group of Oystercatcher were gathered in a circle giving a piping display. There were also lots of Avocet on here – numbers are continuing to increase as birds return after the winter. A colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit stood pointing into the rain.

img_1018Black-tailed Godwit – a colour-ringed bird in the rain

Thankfully the rain blew through quickly. Once it stopped, we made our way round to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were several Knot, Grey Plover and Curlew on the mud in front of the hide when we walked in, but almost immediately something flushed all the birds and the waders all flew off. The Redshanks had gone over to join the others on the Freshmarsh – we could see them all busy bathing and preening from the window at the back of the hide.

As it was starting to brighten up again, we decided to make a bid for the beach. From round on the main path, we stopped to watch a couple of Knot and a couple of Dunlin which dropped back in together on the mud, a nice chance to compare the two species.

6o0a8332Shoveler – several were out on the Tidal Pools

The Pintail were all out on the Tidal Pools today, along with more Shoveler and Mallard. There were also a few waders on here, in particular several Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. This provided a good opportunity to compare the two species – the Bar-tailed Godwit being obviously smaller, shorter-legged and with paler, buffier upperparts streaked with dark.

The tide was coming in again out at the beach. Large groups of Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit were gathered along the shoreline. There was quite a lot of seaweed scattered across the sand today and we could see several silvery Sanderling feeding in amongst it.

There was a flock of Scoter further offshore and through the scope we could see they were mostly Velvet Scoter with a smaller number of Common Scoter in with them. Even better, a single Velvet Scoter was much closer in and we could see the distinctive twin smaller white spots on its face. A couple of Common Scoter were closer in too, and when it turned head on, we could see the yellow stripe down the top of the bill on the drake. Otherwise, the sea here was much quieter than it had been at Holme this morning – just a few Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye. Still, Velvet Scoter was a nice bird to round out the set of our seaduck for the day.

As we made our way back along the main path, we stopped for another look at the Jack Snipe. There were now two Common Snipe on the same side of the pool as the Jack Snipe, we could see their pale central crown stripes. The Common Snipe were out in the middle of the patch of cut reed, but typically the Jack Snipe was more secretive, still keeping nearer to cover at the edge of the tall reeds. However, it had worked its way out to the edge of a little puddle where we could see it better, its shorter bill and dark central crown.

img_1043Jack Snipe – feeding on the edge of the reedbed pool

On the way back, we cut round via Meadow Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. The water level is being kept high on here this year – attractive for the Tufted Ducks, Common Pochard and Coot which were all diving on here. Several Marsh Harriers were starting to gather over the reedbed, ahead of going to roost. A Cetti’s Warbler sand from the bushes.

The afternoon was getting on and it was starting to get dark, but when we turned to look behind us we could see another bank of dark clouds approaching from the west, so we decided to make our way back. We had heard Bullfinches calling on the way out and seen a couple of shapes disappearing off into the bushes. On the way back, they were more helpfully feeding in the top of a small tree, picking at the buds. The three females were perched in full view, while the pink male lurked a little further back. A couple of Jays called noisily from the sallows and we flushed a Muntjac from beside the boardwalk, which scuttled off into the undergrowth.

We got back to the car just in time, as a wintry shower blew through. We had been remarkably lucky with the weather today and we didn’t mind a bit of rain now we were on our way home.

22nd Jan 2017 – Winter Birds & Owls, Day 3

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Winter & Owl Tours, our final day. Once again, it was a frosty start and then a gloriously sunny winter’s day, great weather for being out. We headed up to north-west Norfolk today.

Our first destination was Titchwell, but on the way there we spotted a large flock of Brent Geese in a field beside the road. The winter wheat was coated with frost and they were huddled together in a tight group. We stopped for a quick look – they looked quite smart in the early sunshine.

6o0a4152Brent Geese – huddled together in a tight flock on a frosty morning

The car park at Titchwell wasn’t too full yet. A couple of Long-tailed Tits appeared on the sunny edge of the trees opposite as we parked up. Then we made our way down to the visitor centre. There were not too may birds on the feeders yet, a few tits and a Goldfinch or two, but more action below where several Moorhens, Blackbirds, Dunnocks and Chaffinches were tidying up the spillage.

There were a few birds up in the alders nearby, mostly Goldfinches. But a careful look through revealed a Redpoll. It was quickly joined by three more. We got them in the scope and confirmed they were Mealy Redpolls, quite pale around the face, grey brown above with prominent pale lines down the middle of their mantles and, when they hung upside down and parted their wings, we could see the pale ground colour to their rumps. One was a smart male, with a lovely pink wash on its breast, in addition to the darker red poll on the front of its head.

img_0081Mealy Redpoll – four were feeding in the alders by the visitor centre

img_0098Mealy Redpoll – one of the four was a very smart pink-breasted male

When the Mealy Redpolls flew back away from us through the trees, we set off onto the reserve. A careful look in the ditch by the path revealed a Water Rail. We watched it for a while, digging in the leaf litter on the side before running further along in the water in the bottom. While we were standing there, a Sparrowhawk zoomed low through the trees only a few metres in front of us.

6o0a4234Water Rail – in the ditch by the main path

As we came out of the trees, the reserve was quite a picture, with the low winter sun catching on the tops of the reeds. A quick stop by the now dry again Thornham grazing marsh pool revealed a single Water Pipit feeding out on the mud. We had a good look at it before it wandered over to one side and disappeared into the rushes.

On the other side of the path, the reedbed pool was almost completely frozen. A pair of Mute Swans had managed to crack through the ice and created a small pool for themselves right in the middle. A Marsh Harrier circled up out of the reeds at the back. We heard a Cetti’s Warbler sing half-heartedly from the brambles in the reedbed and looked across just in time to see it fly down and disappear into the reeds.

The freshmarsh was also almost completely frozen. A Little Grebe was diving in the one area of open water around the tallest island over in the back corner. It was surrounded by ducks – Mallard, Gadwall and Teal – also trying to feed. More ducks were standing around in groups on the ice, sleeping.

A large flock of waders flew up from the fenced off island. We could hear Golden Plover calling and a couple of smaller groups broke away from the larger numbers of Lapwing and headed off inland. With the water levels still very high on here, there were not very many islands left poking out of the ice. A small muddy remnant over towards Parrinder Hide held three Ringed Plover, as well as a few Lapwing and a lone Golden Plover. Otherwise, that was about it for waders on here today, not a surprise given the ice.

6o0a4170Bar-tailed Godwit – our first of the day, on the Volunteer Marsh

There was more to see on the Volunteer Marsh, though that too was fairly icy today, despite the salinity of the water on there these days. A Bar-tailed Godwit seemed to be finding plenty of food in the mud, despite it sliding around on the ice. A couple of Knot down on the edge of the channel below the path were joined by two Dunlin, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them side by side. There were also a couple of Grey Plover and several Redshanks on here.

6o0a4184Knot – one of two along the edge of Volunteer Marsh today

More birds were hiding out on the Tidal Pools, which had not frozen. The Avocets had come on here from the freshmarsh, about 13 of them braving out the winter in Norfolk, and they were sleeping on the spit at the back. There were also more godwits on here, as well as a few more Bar-tailed Godwits there were a couple of close Black-tailed Godwits too, always good to get a chance to compare these two very similar species.

There were more duck on here than usual, lots of roosting Teal and Shoveler around the edges. Over towards the back, we could see several Pintail asleep too. The Little Grebes are always on here in the winter, but they were very close to the path today. We watched them diving, puffing out their feathers when they surfaced and then flattening them down again just before going back underwater.

6o0a4197Little Grebe – diving close to the main path on the Tidal Pools

Our main targets here today were out at the sea. We stood up in the dunes with the sun on our backs and scanned the water. There have been good numbers of sea duck here in recent weeks and counts have continued to climb in the last few days. They were a little distant today, but we were not disappointed. The first thing we saw were the Long-tailed Ducks. They were hard to count, as birds were diving constantly, but there were at least 100 all together in one enormous raft, probably more. In recent years, numbers of wintering Long-tailed Duck in Norfolk have been quite low, so to see this many together is a real treat.

Further out we could see a huge raft of scoter. They would be predominantly Common Scoter, but they were too far off to sort through properly. Thankfully, there was a long line of much closer birds. Again, they were mainly Common Scoter but looking through them carefully, we could see a good number of Velvet Scoter with them too. The female Common Scoter have extensive pale cheeks, but the female Velvet Scoter have two smaller white dots on their faces. On some, you could also see the white wing flash on the Velvet Scoter and one helpfully flew past, showing off the white patch in the wing perfectly.

In with the closer group of scoter was a single Scaup. It was a first winter drake, its upperparts now quite extensively grey as it gradually moults out of its brown juvenile plumage. We could also see a few Goldeneye scattered over the sea. Four Common Pochard flew round out over the rafts of seaduck, presumably looking for somewhere to go, with so much water inland frozen over.

There were plenty of Great Crested Grebe out on the water, but one of the reserve volunteers picked up a couple of smaller grebes with them, two Slavonian Grebes. We had hoped to see some divers too, but they were all rather distant. There were a few Red-throated Divers moving again, but eventually we located a single Black-throated Diver on the sea. Even if it was a long way off, we could see the distinctive white rear flank patch between dives.

That seemed like a great selection of birds for the sea, so we decided to make our way back. As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a Kingfisher whizzed in from the saltmarsh and disappeared away over the mud, too fast for everyone to get onto. Thankfully, as we were almost back to the grazing marsh pool, another Kingfisher flew right past us and dropped down into one of the channels on the saltmarsh. Again, they were probably looking for places to feed with much of the fresh water frozen over.

There was a small crowd on the main path staring out at the saltmarsh, so we stopped to look. Down in the grass, we could see a Jack Snipe. They have a very distinctive feeding action – bobbing up and down all the time, as if their legs are on springs – so we knew immediately what it was. Through the scope, we had a great view of it.

img_0122Jack Snipe – feeding out on the edge of the saltmarsh

Then it was back to the car, stopping briefly to admire another Water Rail on the other side of the path to the one we had seen earlier this morning. There were also two Muntjac under the sallows and while we were looking at them, yet another Water Rail scurried past.

It was already lunchtime, but we decided to drive the short distance to Thornham Harbour and eat there. We couldn’t find any sign of the Twite around the harbour, but it was perhaps not a surprise as it was unusually busy here today, with lots of people out for a walk in the winter sunshine. We did hear a Spotted Redshank calling and turned in time to see it fly round over the saltmarsh and drop down out of view. Another Kingfisher was perched on a mud bank out along the edge of the harbour, glowing electric blue in the sun.

After lunch, we walked out along the bank towards Holme. When we got out to the dunes where we could look out over Broadwater, we were not surprised to find that it was mostly frozen. A few ducks, mostly Mallard and Gadwall, were sleeping around the edge of the reeds. There were more ducks further over, but the light was not so good from here – we were looking into the sun. Still, we could see a nice selection, including a few Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard. But there was no sign of the Ferruginous Duck from here, so we decided to walk round to the other side of Broadwater for a better look.

From round on the boardwalk by the NOA Car Park Hide, it didn’t take us long to find the Ferruginous Duck. It was asleep at first, over by the edge with all the other ducks, but we could see its distinctive rust-coloured body plumage and bright white undertail. Even with its head tucked in while sleeping, it would open its eye occasionally and we could see the white iris. Then it was disturbed by one of the Mallards and woke up, swimming out into the middle of the water to join the local Tufted Ducks. It didn’t stay there long and promptly swam back to the bank and went back to sleep.

img_0152Ferruginous Duck – woke up and swam out into the middle with the Tufted Ducks

Ferruginous Duck is a very scarce visitor to the UK, from southern Europe and further east. However, it is also a very common duck in captivity, and it is always hard to tell whether the ones which turn up here have come from the wild population or escaped from someone’s collection. Still, it is an interesting bird to see.

While we were watching the Ferruginous Duck, we could hear a Fieldfare calling. We looked round to see it perched in the top of a bush by the car park. We got it in the scope and had a look at it, but as soon as the camera came out, a Magpie hopped up through the bush and flushed it. It was a shame, as it looked very smart in the winter sunshine.

We walked back to the beach and stopped for a quick scan of the sea. One of the first birds we set eyes on was a Black-throated Diver. It was much closer than the one we had seen earlier at Titchwell. It was still hard to get everyone onto, as it was diving constantly, but we all got a really good look at it in the end. There was another first winter male Scaup off Holme too. We could also see quite a few Red-breasted Mergansers out on the water and a small group of Eider. A close-in Guillemot was nice to see too.

There were a few seals out to sea as usual. We could see a crowd gathered further along the beach to the east, on the edge of the water, but only when they moved round could we see that they had been surrounding a Grey Seal pup. We walked over and the crowd had largely dispersed as we arrived. The pup seemed to be breathing heavily and had shown no signs of moving when everyone had been so close to it, so we messaged one of the reserve wardens about it, just in case.

6o0a4240Grey Seal pup – on the beach at Holme

We left the seal pup on the beach and made our way back up through the dunes and along the seawall back to Thornham Harbour. There was still not sign of the Twite, but we did see a Greenshank in the harbour and a Stonechat perched on a bush by the seawall. Out across the grazing marshes, a Sparrowhawk was perched on a post in the distance.

The sun was already starting to sink in the sky and the temperature was dropping again. We made our way inland and started to drive round the farmland inland. We could see lots of Yellowhammers flying round in the hedges and so we pulled up in a convenient layby. In the small tree in the hedge nearby, we could see a single Corn Bunting – it was immediately obvious, given its much larger size. Then all the buntings flew and disappeared across the field behind the hedge.

We carried on our drive and eventually came to another place where lots of birds have been feeding in a plot planted with wild bird seed cover. The hedge beside the field was full of birds, masses of Reed Buntings and a good number of Yellowhammers too. We could hear Tree Sparrows calling and looked along the hedge to see several perched up with all the buntings, we counted at least eight there and at least another two calling in the hedge behind us. Tree Sparrows are an increasingly rare bird in southern Britain, so it was great to see them still clinging on here.

img_0160Buntings – the hedge was full of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers

The birds in the hedge would gradually thin out, as they flew down into the field to feed. Then, periodically something would spook them and the field would erupt and everything would fly back to the hedge. When it did, we could see there were lots of Chaffinches here too, but they would fly up into the tops of the trees rather than into the hedge with the buntings.

It was great to watch all these birds – bringing back memories of how winter flocks in farmland used to be everywhere. But the light was starting to fade now as the sun began to set, so it was time to head for home, after a fantastic three days of winter birding.